Government | My Suburban Life

DuPage County Board closer to allowing recreational pot in unincorporated areas

Almost three years after becoming the first county in the state to ban recreational marijuana sales, DuPage County is taking steps to allow cannabis stores in unincorporated communities.

County board members have adopted a resolution to develop a zoning and licensing program that would regulate marijuana retail shops in unincorporated areas of DuPage.

The measure divided the board largely along party lines, with Democrats in favor of permitting sales and most Republicans holding a hard-line stance on marijuana.

The reversal comes as marijuana businesses find growing acceptance in municipal areas. Seventeen towns in DuPage have said “yes” to recreational sales. DuPage also is an outlier among Chicago collar counties that have opened their doors to dispensaries.

“We have many municipalities in DuPage County that now allow recreational marijuana,” county board member Liz Chaplin said during a primary candidate forum. “You can have marijuana at your home anywhere in DuPage County, but you just can’t purchase it anywhere. I think DuPage County needs to kind of get with the times and allow recreational marijuana.”

Chaplin has led an effort to lift the county’s prohibition on recreational sales. Six months ago, the Downers Grove Democrat called on the board to revisit the county’s opt-out ordinance. Chaplin said permitting sales encourages business development, promotes jobs and allows the county to bring in additional tax revenue.

But before that can happen, the board’s development committee must draft zoning rules mapping out where marijuana products could be sold.

“It’s going to be an extensive period,” Chaplin said of the process and it may take “quite some time” for permits and licenses to be issued.

Ten state-licensed dispensaries currently are operating in municipal areas, mostly on the southwest side of DuPage, in Naperville; the center of the county, in Villa Park, Oakbrook Terrace and Lombard; and in Addison.

The state has issued a license for an 11th dispensary to open in DuPage, but it’s not up and running yet, said Paul Hoss, the county’s planning and zoning administration coordinator.

Hoss’ department was tasked last year with identifying possible locations for dispensaries based on state requirements, county code and initial board feedback restricting shops to major roadways such as routes 53 and 83. Marijuana stores also must be at least 1,500 feet from another dispensary.

Using those general criteria, Hoss told board members there are conceivably 141 sites that “in theory” could be available for dispensaries. That’s a raw number, Hoss said, and doesn’t take into account any additional county zoning restrictions that could be placed on a facility.

Illinois legalized recreational marijuana in 2020, but cities and counties were able to opt out of sales. DuPage County Board members voted 10-8 in October 2019 to prohibit cultivation centers, craft growers and other adult-use cannabis businesses from setting up shop in unincorporated areas. At the same time, the board imposed a 3% tax on all retail sales of recreational cannabis in municipalities.

Counties can place a tax of up to 3.75% on sales of marijuana products in unincorporated areas. In addition, counties receive cannabis use tax dollars, which are distributed to all Illinois local governments based on population.

DuPage collected $127,233 in use taxes in fiscal 2021. The county has now received three months of cannabis sales taxes – netting $798,286 – after resolving a paperwork filing error with the Illinois Department of Revenue.

“When we take the use tax portion, the sales tax portion for fiscal year ’22, we think we’re going to generate about $2.8 million over budget” expectations, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Martynowicz told the board’s finance committee June 28.

Some Republicans have lingering concerns. Board member Sam Tornatore has questioned whether the county would “simply be taking the current appetite for marijuana use and merely spreading it out among new locations.”

“Do we have an increased demand for marijuana?” Tornatore asked. “Do we have an increased need for marijuana?”